Donald Trump issued an apocalyptic call-to-arms to his supporters Thursday as he battled for political survival amid mounting allegations of sexual misconduct.
Trump accused the press, the political establishment, international banks, the Justice Department and Hillary Clinton’s campaign of conspiring against the American electorate.
“The corrupt establishment knows that we are a great threat to their criminal enterprise,” the Republican presidential nominee told supporters in West Palm Beach, Florida. “This is a struggle for the survival of our nation, believe me. And this will be our last chance to save it.”
The billionaire savaged his accusers, saying their claims are “totally and absolutely false.”
“These claims are all fabricated. They are pure fiction, and they’re outright lies. These events never, ever happened,” Trump said.
Trump’s insistence that the women raising new allegations are wrong contrasts with the spotlight he put on Bill Clinton’s accusers before Sunday’s debate, insisting their stories should be heard. And the sense of paranoia that rang through Trump’s remarks — scattershot, bitterly personal, and devoid of policy talk — is the type of language that long worried Republicans.
Trump’s remarks stood in stark contrast to the scathing attack first lady Michelle Obama delivered minutes earlier, saying Trump’s words had left her “shaken.”
“It’s frightening,” she said. “And the truth is, it hurts. It hurts.”
Trump’s campaign rocked
Trump has been rocked in recent days by reports on his treatment of women. The Washington Post on Friday released a 2005 hot mic conversation for “Access Hollywood” in which Trump was recorded boasting about how his celebrity gave him license to grope women.
During Sunday night’s debate, Trump apologized for his comments but dismissed the remarks as “locker room talk” and insisted he never actually did such things. However, on Wednesday, The New York Times published the account of two women who described unwanted sexual advances by Trump. It was followed by a third account published in People Magazine.
CNN has not yet independently confirmed either The New York Times or People Magazine accounts. The Trump campaign described the entire Times article as a “fiction” that amounted to “character assassination.” The Trump campaign told People magazine: “This never happened. There is no merit or veracity to this fabricated story.”
In West Palm Beach, Trump threatened legal action against The New York Times, saying the newspaper’s reports about his conduct with women “will be part of the lawsuit we are preparing against them.”
“We already have substantial evidence to dispute these lies, and it will be made public in an appropriate way and at an appropriate time,” Trump said, without detailing when that time would come. Trump has previously also promised to release his tax returns but has yet to do so.
David McCraw, the Times’ general counsel, told Trump’s lawyer Thursday it will not retract its story.
“The essence of a libel claim, of course, is the protection of one’s reputation,” McCraw wrote. “Mr. Trump has bragged about his non-consensual sexual touching of women. He has bragged about intruding on beauty pageant contestants in their dressing rooms. He acquiesced to a radio host’s request to discuss Mr. Trump’s own daughter as a ‘piece of ass.’ Multiple women not mentioned in our article have publicly come forward to report on Mr. Trump’s unwanted advances. Nothing in our article has had the slightest effect on the reputation that Mr. Trump, through his own words and actions, has already created for himself.”
Trump also attacked the People Magazine writer who accused him of making an unwanted advance, telling his supporters: “Look at her. Look at her words. You tell me. I don’t think so.”
Trump cast himself as a messiah-like figure backed by a committed movement, and willing to suffer to defeat “these horrible people.”
“I never knew it would be this vile, this bad, this viscous. Nevertheless, I take all of these slings and arrows gladly for you,” Trump said.
Michelle Obama’s personal speech
Obama, who is becoming one of Clinton’s most effective surrogates, spoke in deeply personal terms as she criticized Trump at a rally in Manchester, New Hampshire. She said his alleged behavior is an affront to “basic human decency.”
“I can’t stop thinking about this. It has shaken me to my core in a way I could not have predicted,” Obama said. “This is a time for all of us to stand up and say, ‘Enough is enough. This has got to stop right now.'”
She also rejected Trump’s insistence that the 2005 video was “locker room talk.”
“To dismiss this as everyday locker room talk is an insult to decent men everywhere,” she said. “This is not how adults behave. This is not how decent human beings behave.”
She cast Trump as a poor role model for boys and said that strong men “don’t need to put down women to make themselves feel powerful.”
Speaking at a field office in San Francisco, Clinton said Obama’s speech “not only made a compelling and strong case about the stakes in the election, but about who we are as Americans.”
“We already know who Donald Trump is,” Clinton said. “What we have to prove in this election is who we are and what we stand for.”
But in West Palm Beach, the theme at Trump’s rally was defiance. Shortly before Trump spoke, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani embarked on a prolonged tirade against the media, singling out the Times in particular.
Without directly mentioning the stories about Trump’s treatment of women, Giuliani complained about stories based on the claims that he said had “no support and no evidence.”
He charged that reporters are liars and slammed the “unbelievable, unrelenting and awful way in which the press treats our candidate.”
“They don’t like Republicans they don’t like conservatives,” Giuliani said.
Former Florida lieutenant governor Jennifer Carroll told the crowd that Clinton had chosen to go on a “bully attack” by launching a “gutter campaign,” prompting the crowd to break out in chants of “Lock her up, Lock her up.”
“I know that God has used sinners to do his great works. All 12 disciples were sinners,” Carroll said, accusing Democrats of being “spineless.”
“Why are they spineless? Because they want to take on a soft target, but Donald Trump is going to fight back and fight back hard.”
In the crowd, Trump’s supporters rejected the new allegations of sexual misconduct by Trump — saying the Clintons deserve more scrutiny.
“Remember when Bill Clinton had his peccadillos? ‘Oh his personal stuff doesn’t count, only what he’s going to do as president.’ Well that should apply to everybody then,” said Barbara Susco, a 77-year-old semi-retired realtor from Lake Worth, Florida.
She suggested — without evidence — that women who involved in the new allegations came forward for money.
“How much were they paid? Things happen, you know, in the world of entertainment. Things go on all the time,” Susco said.
Wendy MacArthur, a 61-year-old retiree from Port St. Lucie, Florida, also rejected the veracity of the allegations.
“Well, isn’t it strange that all of the sudden they come out three weeks before the election when they’ve had 20 years with racism and sexism and sexual assault or whatever they were charging him with,” she said. “I just think the timing is very strange and it doesn’t hold any credibility whatsoever.”
By Eric Bradner, CNN
CNN’s Stephen Collinson and Ashley Killough contributed to this report from West Palm Beach, Florida